Briggs was a steeplechase champion named after a family servant. His owner Captain Godfrey Morgan purchased him in 1851. During the Crimean War (1853-56) Morgan commanded a squadron of the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons. They took part in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaklava (1854) where 370 horses were killed.
Briggs miraculously survived, he showed remarkable bravery during the battle despite taking a sabre wound on his head. After he was unofficially knighted 'Sir Briggs'.
Briggs endured the tough conditions of a war that saw many other horses die of starvation and fatigue, but he survived and eventually died in 1874. He was commemorated with a memorial in the grounds of Tredegar Park, his master’s home in Wales.Battle of Balaklava
Sefton became a very popular and famous horse in 1982 when he survived a terrorist attack by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was lucky to escape with his life, seven horses and four soldiers were killed in the bombing and Sefton was critically wounded with 34 injuries.
After recovering from his wounds, Sefton returned to duty with the Household Cavalry. He received thousands of get well cards and in recognition of his bravery and popularity was made Horse of the Year in 1984. He retired later that year after 17 years of British Army service and lived to the grand age of 30.
‘Sefton was the worst injured and I knew that we had to get him back if there was to be any chance of saving him.’
Major Noel Carding, Veterinary Officer of the Household Cavalry
Vonolel was a nimble grey Arab horse belonging to Field Marshal Lord Roberts who purchased the horse in Bombay. Vonolel was Robert’s only reliable mount and carried his master on the 300-mile march from Kabul to Kandahar during the Second Afghan War (1878-80).
The pair were a perfect match: Lord Roberts was only 1.2m tall (5 feet 4 inches) and Vonolel was a little bigger than a pony.
Vonolel was awarded three medals for his service from Queen Victoria. He also had the honour of being in the procession for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. When he died in 1899, he was buried at the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, Ireland.
‘During the 22 years he was in my possession he travelled with me over 50,000 miles, and was never sick nor sorry.’
Field Marshal Lord Roberts, 1897
Ragtime was a pony who belonged to Major Michael Willoughby. He was born in India and served as a mount for troop inspections and polo games. During the First World War the major and his horse served together in Mesopotamia, but when Willoughby returned to India in 1916 they were separated.
Ragtime was sold to the army and stayed at the cavalry depot. But a year later was being ridden as a polo pony during a lull in the fighting, when he was recognised by Willoughby and they were happily reunited. They served together through to the end of the war and then took part in the Arab Revolt in 1920.
During his retirement in Yorkshire in 1931, Ragtime wrote and published his autobiography. The book was sold to raise funds for veteran horses of the First World War.Read: Ragtime's Autobiography
Aliwal belonged to Lieutenant General Sir Harry Smith, a senior commander during the First Sikh War (1845-46). The little Arab came into Smith’s possession aged four. He was named after Smith’s victory at the Battle of Aliwal on 28 January 1846, though Smith himself actually rode another horse called Jem Crow during that fight.
Aliwal proved to be Smith’s best horse, serving with him for 18 years. He was Smith’s only mount not to be sick, wounded or die during his military career. A remarkable feat considering that Aliwal travelled across Arabia to India, then to South Africa and later England during his years of service.
He was also very obedient. A comrade recounted how Smith would ride Aliwal on troop inspections. He would gallop at his men as if to charge them but without fail, Aliwal would stop suddenly very close to the troops!
‘As a charger, he was incomparable, gallant and docile; as a friend, he was affectionate and faithful.’
Inscription on Aliwal’s gravestone
He became as famous as his master after the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15), as Copenhagen often attended parades and celebrations, with the Duke on board. Hair was snipped from his tail and turned into jewellery. And when the Duke became Prime Minister in 1828 he rode Copenhagen to Number 10 Downing Street.
Copenhagen was so famous that after his death Wellington was forced to keep the location of his grave a secret. The letter below is from Colonel J Gurwood to the Royal United Services Institute. It informs them that he been unable to pass on their request about the disinterment of Copenhagen.
Wellington was asked on multiple occasions to exhume the horse, so that his bones could be displayed with Marengo’s at the Royal United Services Institue, but he told them he ‘did not know for sure’ where Copenhagen was buried. It was a blatant lie, he had witnessed his burial.
Black Prince was a yeomanry horse, which meant he was only a part-time soldier. He normally lived in stables in Kensington, London, and was taken out for rides along Rotten Row in Hyde Park. He was also taken on family holidays to the seaside town of Bexhill in East Sussex.
When called on for military duties, Black Prince travelled to Gloucestershire by train with his owner, Major Mathews, who served in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars.
Thomas joined the Household Mounted Cavalry Regiment in 1993. Unlike the other horses listed here, he didn’t have to endure the trials of combat during his career, but instead had the job of escorting the Queen on ceremonial duties. Just like a human soldier, he had to display impeccable good behaviour, dignity and discipline.
Thomas served at several major national events: The Queen’s Gold and Diamond Jubilees in 2002 and 2012, the Royal Wedding in 2011, and the London 2012 Olympics.
‘Thomas is a big flirt, I've had more kisses from him, than I have from girls over the last few months.’
Trooper Nicholas Baines, Thomas’ rider, 2012
Some of Thomas’ behaviour however was distinctly unsoldierly. He gained a reputation for being the lover boy of the Household Cavalry Barracks in Knightsbridge by delivering sloppy kisses to his handlers. It would be common for new recruits to be asked ‘Have you kissed Thomas?’ when they were sent to the riding school and anyone offering him a treat would receive a snog in return.
After such a ‘passionate’ and prestigious career, Thomas retired aged 22 in 2012, after 19 years of service. He put his hooves up at the home of another veteran of the Household Cavalry, Farrier Corporal Michael Wood in Berkshire. They later moved to Sweden, where Thomas found a lady love to bestow his kisses upon: Wood’s daughter!
Marengo was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 150 small grey Arab horses. He was purchased in Egypt in 1799 and named after the French victory at Marengo the following year. Napoleon’s mounts were trained to be fearless, obedient, and to remain calm on the battlefield. This was ideal for the Emperor, who was a poor rider.
Many of the stories about Marengo are probably myth. He is said to have carried Napoleon over 3,500 miles from Paris to Moscow and back; is the rearing horse in Jacques Louis David’s portraits of Napoleon crossing the Alps; and was the Emperor’s mount at the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Even though Napoleon probably commanded the battle from his carriage!
After Waterloo, Marengo was taken by the British and became a popular attraction. He was first displayed in 1824 and after his death in 1831 his remains were preserved. His skin with its crowned ‘N’ brand was lost, but his skeleton was donated to the Royal United Services Institute. He became even more famous than when he was alive.